Part two of the 7-episode podcast, “Unspeakable Crime: The Killing of Jessica Chambers” (listen here) details how prosecutors charged Quinton Tellis with the death of Jessica Chambers.
The podcast is hosted by legal analyst Beth Karas, and coincides with the docu-series on Oxygen that shares the same name. It is a deep-dive into the chilling murder case of Chambers, who was just 19 when she was burned alive in Mississippi on December 6, 2014. Tellis is scheduled for a retrial Monday, September 24. His first trial ended in a hung jury.
It took police 14 months to make an arrest in the brutal death of the Chambers, who grew up in Courtland, a small rural northern Mississippi town in the Bible belt.
Police first talked to Tellis on October 10, just four days after Chambers’ murder, according to Karas.
“We received information that he had been with Jessica the morning of the day he was set on fire,” District Attorney John Champion said on “Unspeakable Crime.”
Karas explained that Chambers and Tellis knew each other, well enough that Chambers had asked him for money for gas and food. They had driven around together with another friend the day of her murder.
During that initial interview, Champion said Tellis was cooperative and willing to talk. “He seemed very believable at the time,” Champion said.
Three weeks later, he talked to cops again, and even took a polygraph test and gave DNA.
“He didn’t come back on our radar for about nine months,” Champion said.
Eight months after Chambers’ death, a woman named Meing-Chen Hsiao was murdered at her home in Louisiana. She was a 34-year-old Taiwanese graduate student at the University of Louisiana at Monroe who went by “Mandy,” according to KTVE-TV in nearby El Dorado, Arkansas.
Police say that whoever killed her cut and stabbed her more than 30 times. Tellis has not been charged or indicted for Hsiao's murder. However, he has pleaded guilty to the unauthorized use of Hsiao’s credit card and received a 10-year jail sentence.
“Obviously, when we learned she had been murdered it really piqued our interest,” Champion told “Unspeakable Crime.”
Authorities investigating the Chambers case traveled to Monroe to interview Tellis again. As in previous interviews, Champion said, Tellis was completely cooperative and happy to talk.
Still, the talk did not go smoothly. Karas explained that Tellis became upset after officials accused him of lying. They claimed that cell phone data evidence placed Tellis and Chambers together the night of the murder. Karas will go into the details of the cell phone data during a later episode of the podcast.
“Once you really found out who done it to her you will come back and apologize to me,” Tellis said towards the end of the two-day interrogation.
“I know I ain’t kill nobody. It ain’t even in my heart to kill somebody. [...] I admit to what I do, whatever I do, I admit to.”
By February 2016, prosecutors officially charged Tellis with Chambers’ murder.
Both he and his family maintain his innocence. His mother Rebecca Tellis told “Unspeakable Crime,” “You know what your child is capable of doing. I know my son ain’t do this.”
Two years and 10 months after Chambers’ tragic death, the opening statements kicked off at Tellis’ first trial for the case.
During those opening statements, Champion told the jury that if you say ‘Tellis’ without moving your tongue it sounds a lot like ‘Eric’ or ‘Derek.’ Multiple first responders had said that before she died, Chambers told them that ‘Eric did this.’ Some said it was possible she was saying ‘Derek.’
Lead defense attorney Darla Palmer attempted to debunk Champion’s theory during her opening statements, stating that Chambers was alert and able to speak, enough to utter the phrase, “Eric set me on fire.”
“Eric is not on trial here today. He should be and for this reason we will ask that you find Quinton Tellis not guilty as a result,” she said.
Chambers’ last words remain one of the most debated and haunting aspects of the case.
Tellis’ first trial ended in a hung jury; his retrial began Monday, September 24.
[Photo: Associated Press]